TIME faith

How the Vatican and Cuba Came Together

Jan. 26, 1998
Cover Credit: GERARD RANCINAN The Jan. 26, 1998 cover of TIME

John Paul II visited the island in 1998

The Vatican’s statement on Friday that Pope Francis is “considering” a visit to Cuba when he is in North America in the fall has brought new attention to the special relationship between the island nation and the Catholic leader. The Pope has been credited with encouraging the recent signs of rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, something his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, also spoke in favor of during a 2012 trip to Cuba.

Though Cuba has historic ties to the Catholic religion, that special relationship is really only two decades old: It was around 1995 that Fidel Castro began working on what ended up being Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to Cuba.

The anti-religion stance of strict Marxism had kept Cubans away from religion for decades and the crumbling of the Soviet Union only led Cuba to dig in, with hopes of proving the ideology’s endurance. At the same time, however, that period of enforcement was one of economic hardship, perhaps contributing to a rise in interest in both spiritual help and religious charity. “In 1991 Castro rescinded the ban against Christians’ joining the Communist Party,” writer Johanna McGeary explained, “and in 1992 he declared Cuba a secular, not an atheist, state.”

That change had been a long time coming:

The idea of a papal visit has actually intrigued Cuba’s leader for nearly two decades. It is not so strange as it might seem: from the very start of his revolution, Castro has sought political pilgrimages from the influential and famous as a sign of international approbation. And Castro has never feared talking to his adversaries. Although he barred Christians from the Communist Party, nationalized Catholic schools, expelled foreign priests and nuns, he never shut down the churches or prohibited religious worship or broke relations with the Vatican.

In 1979 Castro met some liberation-theology priests in Nicaragua and, says Wayne Smith, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, “decided that social justice, greater equality and caring for the poor were not very different goals from those of the Cuban revolution.” So he invited the Pontiff to stop by during a Mexican tour that year, but the “technical layover” Castro offered held no appeal to John Paul II.

By 1985 it seemed to Castro that signs of nonconformity and a search for new ideas were infecting the populace. Little by little, people were going back to church. So he spent 23 hours talking to a Brazilian Dominican friar, Frei Betto. The subsequent book, Fidel and Religion, became a national best seller. Here was the apostle of Marxism expounding on his Catholic upbringing and attitudes toward religion. He recalled his devout mother and his rigorous parochial education. He had been baptized and was taught biblical history and Catholic catechism. At his upper-class Jesuit high school he absorbed the determination and discipline of these militant teachers who prophesied in his yearbook that he would make a brilliant name for himself.

While he called Christ “a great revolutionary” whose teachings coincide with the aims of socialism, Castro insisted that “no one could instill religious faith in me through the mechanical, dogmatic methods that were employed. I never really held a religious belief.” Later on, he said, “I had other values: a political belief which I forged on my own, as a result of my experience, analysis and sentiments.” Nevertheless, the rebel wore a small cross on his guerrilla garb in the early days of the revolution. In the book, he astonished Cubans with the extent of his religious knowledge and the flattering comparisons he drew between Christianity and Marxism. “Karl Marx,” he said, “would have subscribed to the Sermon on the Mount.” Christians, he added, had been excluded from Cuba’s government not for ideological reasons but for historical mistakes in supporting the prerevolution status quo. Suddenly the subject of religion was no longer taboo.

Castro’s goals in eventually inviting the Pope for the 1998 visit were complex, and the results at first seemed modest. Large crowds had turned out to see John Paul II but no major news was made by either side. (Another contributing factor in the lack of news made by the visit: that was the same week President Clinton denied having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.) But today, many years later, it’s clear that the papal visit of 1998 did change something. It restarted a relationship between Cuba and the Vatican — a relationship that just might get another chapter very soon.

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: Clash of Faiths

TIME Vatican

Vatican to Host Summit on Climate Change

Pope Francis leads general audience in Vatican City
Baris Seckin—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Pope Francis arrives at St. Peter's square on April 15, 2014 to lead his weekly general audience in Vatican City, Vatican on April 15, 2015.

The move is part of Pope Francis's environmental strategy

The Vatican will host a summit on climate change and sustainability efforts later this month, officials announced on Tuesday.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will give the opening address of the “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity” event, and faith and science leaders will give speeches and participate in panels. The goal of the summit is to highlight “the intrinsic connection between respect for the environment and respect for people—especially the poor, the excluded, victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, children, and future generations,” according to the Vatican’s website.

The summit is part of a larger effort by Pope Francis to bring the Catholic Church into the conversation about sustainability and the environment. The Holy See will write a papal letter to bishops this summer about the Vatican’s position on climate change—a fitting mission for a Pope whose namesake, Francis of Assisi, is the patron saint of the environment.

TIME Family

How Do You Talk to Kids About God?

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

For secular parents, explaining sex is a cinch, but tackling religion can be terrifying

Talking openly with children about sensitive subjects is hard. It always has been. In my parents’ generation, the three-letter taboo was S-E-X. My older sister was 13 when my dad gave a kid “The Talk” for the first time. It was the ’80s, and my dad dodged it like any educated man of his time. He tossed her a sex-education book and said, “Read this, but don’t do it.”

Discussing sex isn’t quite so scary today. Many modern fathers don’t flinch when their daughters ask about anatomy or start inquiring about how babies are made. But progressive thinking has a way of replacing certain taboos with others. And today, for a great many parents, there is a new three-letter word: G-O-D.

With two of Western religion’s most important holidays—Easter and Passover—in the air, I find myself thinking back to the first time I had the “God Talk” with my own daughter. Maxine was barely five years old when she piped up from the backseat on the way home from her Los Alamitos preschool one day.

“Mommy,” she said, “you know what? God made us!”

I felt like a cartoon character being hit in the back of the head with a frying pan. My heart raced. I’m quite sure I began to sputter. Visions of Darwin and the evolving ape-man raced through my mind, followed closely by my childhood image of the big guy upstairs in his flowing white robes. I couldn’t speak.

And, in the awkward silence that followed, I was forced to confront the truth: The idea of talking to my kid about God—and, more specifically, about religion—scared the bejesus out of me.

I swallowed hard and forced myself to speak. “Well,” I said, “Who is God?”

Now, I don’t remember if Maxine actually said “duh,” or whether she simply bounced a “duh” look off the rearview mirror. But I can tell you that the “duh” message came across loud and clear.

“He’s the one who made us,” she said, her eyebrows knitted. “Okay… well, what is God doing now?” I tried for casual.

Again with the nonverbal “duh.”

“God is busy making people and babies,” she answered.

This information could not have been delivered with more certainty. My little girl, who had never heard an utterance of the word “God” in our house, aside from decidedly ungodly uses of the word, now had it all figured out thanks to a Jewish classmate who also happened to be her very first boyfriend. I was beaten to the punch by a cute preschool boy.

I let the subject drop, but my chest constricted all the way home. It stayed that way for hours. Why hadn’t I been prepared for this? What was I supposed to say now that she was getting her information from this boy at school?

As a science-minded non-believer with a generally non-confrontational personality, I was stumped by how to handle the situation. I wanted to be truthful about what I believed to be truth, but I didn’t want to indoctrinate her into my worldview either. And I certainly didn’t want others indoctrinating her into theirs, either. So where did that leave me? Was I to sit Maxine down and tell her that evolution, not God, was responsible for her existence? Was I to impose my own beliefs on her, the way other parents seemed to be doing? Or should I leave her alone to explore on her own timetable? What was the difference between guidance and pressure anyway? What was I willing to “let” her believe, and what wasn’t I?

Luckily for me, I have a husband who is cool under pressure. Later that day, after I’d rather breathlessly presented him with all the facts of the disastrous car ride, I asked him, “What if she believes in God?” His answer, my wakeup call, has become a mantra I repeat often. He said, “It’s not what Maxine believes, but what she does in life that matters.”

What I took from this was: Relax . . . it’s just God.

So I set aside my own irrational concerns and began to talk with my kid about God—lots of gods, actually. We talked about Brahman and Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. My husband bought her a Children’s Bible, and I brought home lots of picture books highlighting aspects of various religious cultures.

To my delight, Maxine became genuinely interested in religion—as long as it came in bite-size pieces, rather than overly long oratories. She became engaged in the stories we told, and good at deciphering the various “moral” aspects of various tales for herself. In her hands, the Bible wasn’t a tool of indoctrination, but a tool of religious literacy—even critical thinking. Once when she was reading the 10 Commandments, for example, she got to the 10th and read (aloud): “Never want what belongs to others.” Then she stopped and corrected Moses. “Well, you can WANT what belongs to others,” she said. “You just can’t HAVE it. You can buy one for yourself.”

In the four years that have passed since Maxine first told me about God, we have discussed the subject countless times. I have learned that compassion and an open mind are more important than being right. I’ve also learned that the best way to combat intolerance is with knowledge, and that the best way to combat indoctrination is with critical thinking. No longer is there awkwardness around the subject. We talk about lots of different beliefs, encourage her to learn about what motivates the faith of others, and make clear that there is no shame in choosing an unpopular path. After all, her own parents are happy, well-adjusted, and (I like to think) good-hearted people.

Today, Maxine is 9 and believes in God “two days a week — on Sundays and Wednesday.” Is that logical or rational? No. But who cares? It works for her, and that’s what’s important.

I haven’t always done everything right. I have stumbled sloppily through more than a few conversations along my own journey and regretted my word choices now and again. (Our unique biases have a way of filtering through from time to time, despite our best efforts.) But, because the conversations keep coming, I’ve almost always had a chance to right my wrongs, to clarify my position, to bring a new perspective to each situation. The point here is not to be perfect—as my daughter says, “That would be boring”—but to give us something to aim for.

Exposing kids to various brands of spirituality and religion (not to mention non-religious philosophies) is not only fascinating and surprisingly fun; it also has the potential to improve our children’s— and our own—awareness about and compassion for the multiplicity of kinds of people in the world. Like the “sex talk,” discussions about God may come up sooner (and differently) than you had pictured. But it’s our obligation to embrace it. After all, if we’re not prepared to explore ideas of God, religion, and faith with our curious children, someone else will do it for us.

Someone cute.

Wendy Thomas Russell is an award-winning journalist and author of Relax, It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You’re Not Religious. Russell hosts a blog called Natural Wonderers at Patheos.com and writes an online column for the PBS NewsHour. She wrote this for Thinking L.A., a partnership of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

Easter’s Ever-Changing Date and the People Who Tried to Fix It

Easter Eggs
Hulton Archive/Getty Images Three women holding armfuls of large Easter eggs, circa 1925

A trade association advocated for the change — unsuccessfully

This year, Easter falls on April 5 — but, as those who celebrate the major Christian holiday will know, the day doesn’t stay in one place for long. Easter is one of the “moveable feasts,” a holiday that falls on a different calendar date each year. It’s calculated as the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox.

Though the beginning of spring generally happens around the same time every year — the church uses March 21 as the date — the lunar calendar and the Gregorian calendar don’t match up, which means the timing of the full moon can change quite a bit. (This year, that full moon came on April 4.) Easter thus has about a month’s worth of time in which to move around.

That system worked for hundreds of years, but as Easter became not only a religious holiday, but also an occasion for sales, shopping and parades, the mobility of the fête began to cause a problem.

Stocking Easter goodies and planning projected profits is difficult to do when the calendar moves around, and even more so if you use Easter to mark the start of the whole shopping season. So in 1926, a group of storekeepers came up with a solution: fix the date. Not fix as in “make better”; fix as in “fix in place.”

As TIME explained on Feb. 1 of that year:

This inconstancy of Eastertide has irritated money-grubbing merchants, who long have surreptitiously, indirectly exported the spirited, springtime surge of joy, light and purity felt by celebrants. People have stepped from decorating their altars to decking their bodies, until the Easter Sunday “parade” of fashionables and fops gets more notice in the lay press than does the sanctity of the holiday. This display of clothes and flowers and jewels and carriages, wily merchandisers have gloated over. None the less they have peered with squinted eye at the fluctuating date of the festival, even as they touted a robe as “hot from N’ York, lady,” or “new from Paris, madame.”

Last week the Manhattan Merchants’ Association stepped into the clear; advocated a constant Easter; stated in a bulletin that the second Sunday in April “will be” the date it believes will be adopted; said further: “A late Easter often proves disastrous to sellers of many lines of merchandise because it shortens the spring season, thereby reducing the volume of business, while the lengthened winter season is of little benefit. With the adoption of a fixed date, all such difficulties will disappear.

The church’s response to the proposal? “Clergymen,” TIME reported, “were vexed.” Nearly 90 years later we know that there was no need for such vexation: Though TIME didn’t follow up on the story, Easter is still moving around the same way it always has.

TIME portfolio

Inside the Most ‘Bible-Minded’ City in America

Earlier this year, the American Bible Society named Birmingham, Ala., the nation's most "Bible-minded" city

Earlier this year, the American Bible Society named Birmingham the nation’s most “Bible-minded” city, with the largest number of people who say they have read the Bible at least once in the past week and strongly believe in its accuracy. As Mark Pettus, an associate pastor at the Church of the Highlands, puts it, “You walk into coffee shops like Starbucks in the morning, and you’re going to see a group of people with the Bible open.”

Ahead of Easter Sunday, TIME sent photographer Matt Eich to visit some of the people who helped Birmingham earn that designation. His pictures show congregants at a megachurch, the generation gap at one of the city’s historic houses of worship, and the intimate moments of family prayer.

LISTEN: A sermon at The Church of the Highlands

TIME faith

The Story Behind Passover

passover-setting
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The most celebrated home ceremony of the Jewish year is ultimately about living and experiencing a family story

Passover is many things. It’s a freedom from slavery story, a survival story, and a celebration of Spring story. But, as the most celebrated home ceremony of the Jewish year, sitting down at a Seder is ultimately about living and experiencing a family story.

Seder. The word literally means “order” but beyond the 15 rituals of the Passover dinner experience, including the retelling of the exodus from Egypt, there is the story created by every family during the eight day holiday.

As it states in the Old Testament (Exodus 10:2), when God commands Moses to speak to Pharoah, (he) says “And in order that you should tell into the ears of your children and grandchildren…” Explaining the meaning behind this statement, Chabad Rabbi Chaim Meir Bukiet wrote, “By telling the story, it comes to life for both the one who is telling the story and the one who is listening” for all the generations to come.

As I child, I was the one watching and listening and I always wondered why we were being subjected to the Jewish version of a holiday rerun. Every year it was the same TV producer who showed up in the guise of my mother with a “to do” list for preparation and planning for the days before and after the Seder. My step-father stood in for the TV announcer, rehearsing his lines and writing a new script each year.

It started the same way every year in the weeks leading up to Passover. Although the Jews in Egypt left hastily and most likely with little thought to the state of their homes or preparing food for the journey, getting ready for Passover in my home meant my mother would be orchestrating days of cleaning, cooking and carefully re-ordering our home.

This was followed by the spring shopping trip to Saks Fifth Avenue to buy new clothes and my annual “cutting out the label” ceremony as I didn’t want my classmates in our blue-collar school to know where my mother bought them.

Back at home, I watched my mother review her cookbooks, make a shopping list and unpack all the china, glassware and silver. Our house would become swathed in the sweet aroma of her matzah cereal, as she baked the nuts and honey, crumbled matzah and coconut together from a recipe that I thought was hers until a discovery many years later that it was from, The Complete Passover Cookbook by Frances R. AvRutick.

There was always great excitement on the night before Passover when my step-father would guide all of us by the hand in the dark with a candle, spoon and flashlight in the ancient tradition of finding the last Hametz (forbidden during Passover) in the form of breadcrumbs he had hidden around the house. Once found he would burn all of it inside a bag and we would mourn the loss of all bread until Passover ended.

Finally, we would sit down to a dinner which was different each year as my family personalized the ceremony sometimes with plays or magic tricks, poems or modern stories based on the holiday. I often complained that our Seder was so much longer than those at my friend’s homes, many of whom were using the Maxwell House Haggadah, one of the best marketing strategies ever created to encourage Jewish families to speed through the story and get to the “good to the last drop” coffee.

The morning after Seder, we eagerly awaited the first matzah brei breakfast — a sweet or savory treat — and the many leftover charoses and matzah sandwiches we’d enjoy. However, there was also the absolute embarrassment of packed matzoh sandwiches at school and the insistence of my parents to bring it into restaurants, thus assuring everyone in our small Texas town knew we were Jewish.

Looking back at these rituals of Passover, I realize they were as much a part of the story as the actual exodus tale. When I became a parent it was no surprise that I continued many of these same traditions and added my own twist on others.

We do clean our house for Passover but don’t often use china or silver as we prefer to be more casual or have dinner at our friend’s home. We do shop for new clothes (but not at SFA) and I have become known for making my mother’s Passover cereal as a gift. I have also, over the years, developed a tradition of making many different types of charoses from around the world including Sephardic, Egyptian, Israeli, and even a California charoses made with avocado.

We’ve done hunts in the dark for Hametz over the years but often turned it into a bread and candy discovery tour (a Jewish version of an Easter Egg hunt). Many times I have written my own Passover ceremony with poetry from Rabbi Sheryl Lewart’s book Blessings for the Journey or Celebrating the Jewish Holidays edited by Steven J. Rubin. And, I’ve collected props and songs for storytelling and scour the internet each year for alternative Haggadahs.

Our family rituals and traditions, along with travel and Study Abroad in Israel with Alexander Muss High School, have become part of the thread I’ve now woven into the Passover story for my children. Once we were slaves — once we dreamed about freedom and a nation in Israel. Now we are free, now we have a country and now we have the power to pass these stories and traditions (both religious and personal) onto our children and our grandchildren.

No matter what your tradition for Passover, when we say “Next Year in Jerusalem,” we’re saying it because our ancestors made it possible.

Karen Rappaport is the Director of Admissions for the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (www.amhsi.org), a Study Abroad program with more than 43,000 Alumni including her children. A member of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, CA, she has been an active congregant and participant in its popular Women’s Seder for many years. She prides herself on being the best haametz hunter and afikomen hider in the family and welcomes both Elijah and Miriam to her table. Her Passover claim to fame is the seven different types of charoses she makes for seder.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

The Fall of Rome and All That

Colosseum, Rome.
Print Collector/Getty Images The Colosseum in Rome.

Our obsession with the Fall of Rome reflects our belief in the end times – a belief shared by the people of Rome

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Last November, Ted Cruz of Texas stood on the Senate floor and claimed that America, like ancient Rome, faced a moment of grave, existential danger. He’s not the only one telling scary stories about ghosts in togas.

Over the past six months alone, media outlets (including this one) have averaged about one gloom-and-doom essay a month, citing everything from America’s cultural relativism to the increasing use of drones in military conflict to the spread of gay marriage as proof that Rome’s history is repeating itself.

As a historian of the Roman Empire, I’d like to suggest there’s really no need for alarm.

One of the most well-known moments in history, the “Fall of Rome,” is not a historical event. It’s not even a series of unfortunate mistakes. It’s more akin to a theological idea, and the time has come to stop screwing up the way we talk about it. Understanding the place of religion in history is an urgent one, too.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the rise of the so-called Islamic State, many commentators, even President Obama, began to wonder whether it was fair to call Islamic extremism “religious.” Everyone was and is eager to find ways to talk about a world faith without condemning it as inherently intolerant. Unfortunately, our track record in this area isn’t good.

Edward Gibbon was one of the first of the modern era to wrestle with this dilemma—and he failed miserably at it. Gibbon, one of the brightest stars of the Enlightenment, the learned man whose name has become synonymous with the disease he studied, “Decline and Fall,” was adamant that “the intolerant zeal of the Christians” had led to the “fall of Rome.”

Gibbon’s broad, anti-religion thesis was popular for the eighteenth century, when science and secularism were the hottest buzzwords. It also set off an explosion of interest in the late Roman Empire. By the 1980s, there were 210 explanations for what had caused Rome’s “fall”: from a lack of moral character to a pervasive “tiredness of life.” Archaeologists soon started to claim that they could see the “end of civilization” in their pots and houses. But no one ever stopped to point out the flaw at the root of all these experiments.

Romans had been predicting the downfall of their own empire for decades, even centuries, before anything remotely “disastrous” ever happened to it. Blinded by an ideological contempt for people’s beliefs, intent on taking about religious identity in monolithic ways (“the Christians”), Gibbon had overlooked some key data.

In the late Republic, conspiring citizens put their trust in the gods that a military man would come to save them during a time of crisis. It never happened. The group was rounded up and executed. Later, one of Jesus’ followers did something similar: summoning the specter of Rome’s fall to rally his base. Christians were attending festivals, showing their neighbors they could be good citizens. To the writer of Revelation, their ability to do two things at once was an abomination. Christians were supposed to be fighting a spiritual war, he argued, not building bridges with people in town.

Of course, Rome’s empire never came to a fiery end in a war fought between “angels and demons.” Within two decades, the entire Mediterranean would be living through the greatest economic prosperity it would ever know, and Christians were raising their social profile everywhere.

Crack-pot Romans and zealous Christians weren’t the only ones obsessed with the end times, either. One Jewish writer in Egypt would draw upon the same ideas to encourage his followers to take up arms against the state. He predicted Rome would finally be overturned for annihilating Jerusalem. His rebels foolishly fought the Roman army. They lost. Within two decades, the Jewish community was forced to live as exiles from their homeland.

Gibbon’s eagerness to see history through the “secular” lens of the Enlightenment blinded him to the most important “religious” story of the empire—and left us woefully unprepared to talk about the complexities of religious identity today.

Anxious notions about the last days, notions of spiritual warfare, and a righteous belief that a divine hand was endorsing a specific law or policy were ideas in Rome that crossed the theological aisle. But that doesn’t make them any less “religious.”

In Rome, these were the ways many people grappled with uncertain times—from the late Republic to 476 A.D., when the Christian emperor of Rome was replaced by a Christian king. We traditionally associate that latter year with the “Fall of Rome,” but it’s time to drop the historical charade. Just because the government changed, it wasn’t the end of the world, despite some people who saw it that way.

That’s why today’s ghost stories are ultimately so revealing. We keep pretending we’re doing Roman history when what we’re really masking is our own severe anxiety about the fast-changing changing world—using the same ideas that our ancestors did, two thousand years ago. It’s time we put these beliefs back into our history books instead of doing as Gibbon did: ignoring them or, worse, pretending they were never there.

What people believe—and what people are taught to believe—can’t be left out of history.

Douglas Boin is the author, most recently, of “Coming Out Christian in the Roman World” (Bloomsbury Press). He is an assistant professor of history at Saint Louis University. You can follow him on Twitter @douglasboin.

Read next: How Coca-Cola Became Kosher for Passover

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TIME faith

How Coca-Cola Became Kosher for Passover

Always Coca-Cola
Cincinnati Historical Society / Getty Images An inspector scrutinizes bottles of Coca-Cola as they pass in front of a piercing light, in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the 1940s

Thanks to the efforts of an Atlanta-based rabbi in the 1930s, Jews keeping kosher for Passover can still drink a Coke

Starting when Passover begins on Friday night, Jews who are keeping kosher for the holiday must forgo foods with wheat, corn and other grains for the eight-day festival, severely restricting their diet. But one luxury is not out of reach: Coca-Cola.

The Atlanta-based soda maker provides a kosher-for-Passover version of its mainstay cola, identifiable by its yellow cap. Unlike most commercial sodas in the U.S. that are sweetened with corn syrup, this concoction uses sugar, helping it pass muster for those avoiding grains—and making it popular among those who say they prefer the flavor.

Hipsters and observant Jews alike are largely indebted to the efforts of one Orthodox rabbi eight decades ago. Rabbi Tuvia Geffen, Lithuanian-born but residing in Coke’s Georgia hometown, noticed that, of all the dietary restrictions of Passover, staying away from the soda was proving particularly difficult for his congregants. Before the holiday rolled around in 1935, responding to popular demand, he investigated the ingredients of the soft drink.

“Because it has become an insurmountable problem to induce the great majority of Jews to refrain from partaking of this drink,” Rabbi Geffen wrote in his rabbinical ruling. “I have tried earnestly to find a method of permitting its usage. With the help of God, I have been able to uncover a pragmatic solution.”

The solution was, it turned out, relatively easy. This was before the use of corn syrup, but the ingredients still sometimes included grain sugars; so Coca-Cola assured Rabbi Geffen that they would exclusively use cane sugar during Passover as well as scrap one other minor ingredient that the rabbi deemed not to be kosher. And with that, Rabbi Geffen pronounced Coke to be kosher.

The dramatic development was announced in a letter to TIME published in the May 13, 1935, issue, sent by one Samuel Glick of Atlanta. Glick was following up on a TIME article about the Jewish Passover celebration that had been published the previous month:

In connection with your interesting article on the celebration of Passover (TIME, April 29), you may be interested to know that, for the first time. Atlanta orthodox Jews were allowed to drink Coca Cola during this solemn season. With the approval of Atlanta rabbis, special Coca Cola bottle caps were stamped with the Kosher symbol and signs denoting the same were displayed in soda fountains. The drink was not altered in any way.

Read the 1935 story about the Passover celebration: Passover and Easter

TIME society

Why Indiana’s Controversial Act Does Not Represent Religious Freedom

Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act blurs important lines between authentic religious freedom and 'Christian freedom'

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Nearly 20 years ago, I was working at my local newspaper when a small controversy arose concerning religious freedom and gay rights. PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) wanted to send speakers in to the local Catholic schools to give presentations; the school board said that this would violate their right to instruct students in accord with the teaching of the Church.

At the time I was an atheist in a lesbian relationship. So I called the school board and asked if they could explain why their decision was not just blatantly homophobic. They sent me a small pamphlet explaining Church sexual teaching. I read it, thought it was bizarre but coherent, and ended up writing an article defending the right of Catholic schools to teach Catholic doctrine. My thinking was that although I disagreed completely with what the Church taught, I believed that religious freedom is an essential principle of liberal democracy.

One of the challenges of living in a liberal democracy is that you have to be willing to play nice and get along with people who you’d much rather kick in the eye. It doesn’t matter whether the disagreement is ideological or religious, philosophical or academic, visceral or personal. Part of the social contract that you accept as a citizen is that you agree not to force others to act in accord with your personal beliefs.

But there are places where this gets sticky. Every so often a conflict arises where the way that one person chooses to live impacts another person’s right to live in accord with their own beliefs. The present conflict over Senate Bill 101, Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, concerns these kinds of situations.

What do you do, for example, if the only hospital in town is a Catholic hospital and a woman wants to have her tubes tied? Or if a nurse working at a secular hospital refuses, for religious reasons, to assist in abortions?

I think it’s important, on liberal grounds, to recognize that people’s right to act in conscience must be protected under the law. The fact that a woman wants a tubal ligation should not give her the right to force a doctor to perform surgery which he or she considers to be mutilation. An employer does not have the right to compel one of its employees to participate in an act that she or he believes to be murder. These are serious violations of the individual’s freedom of conscience, and in so far as Senate Bill 101 is intended to defend people’s rights in situations like this, it’s a very important piece of legislation – not just from a religious freedom perspective, but also as a defense of the core values of liberalism.

Unfortunately, SB 101 seems also intended, by some lobbyists behind the bill, to blur important lines of distinction as it equivocates between authentic religious freedom and “Christian freedom.” Eric Miller, the Founder and Executive Director of Advance America (an organization that provided much of the impetus for SB 101) says, “It is vitally important to protect religious freedom in Indiana…It was therefore important to pass Senate Bill 101 in 2015 in order to help protect churches, Christian businesses and individuals from those who want to punish them because of their Biblical beliefs!”

Religious freedom is a much broader concept that includes mosques, Buddhist businesses, and Vedic beliefs. When “religious freedom” really only means Christian rights, it’s not religious freedom in the sense intended by the American Constitution, or by Catholic teaching.

Advance America gives three examples of situations where Senate Bill 101 will “help.” The first is the provision of peripheral services such as baking or flowers for gay marriages. The second is transgender bathroom use. The third is the use of church property for gay weddings.

The only one of these that really has anything to do with religious freedom is the last one. The other situations described have nothing to do with freedom of religion. They’re just blatant opportunities for public displays of discrimination.

It’s something that I’ve seen before. When I was growing up, my town experienced a major demographic shift: we went from being a primarily white, middle-class suburb to being one of the largest South-East Asian communities in North America. I remember hearing arguments about restricting signage to English and French (Canada’s two official languages), arguments that single-family housing should exclude extended families, arguments that prohibitions on head-gear at schools should be extended to turbans and hijabs. People claimed to be arguing about city planning, Canadian culture and school safety. They were really just being racist, and nobody was fooled.

The same is true in Christian communities that want to deny services to LGBTQ people. No one in these communities would actually want to live in a world where this kind of religiously-motivated service denial was the norm. A society in which Baptist wedding photographers refuse service to Catholics because they might have to take a photo including a statue of Mary. Where you stand in line forever at Walmart only to discover that your Jehovah’s Witness cashier won’t ring through your coffee. Where Muslim restaurant owners refuse to serve women unless they’re dressed according to Islamic standards of modesty.

The difference between a valid conscientious objection and an arbitrary refusal of service lies in the difference between material co-operation with an act, and superficial involvement with it. Refusing to dispense abortifacients, for example, might actually prevent an abortion from happening. Refusing to bake a cake, on the other hand, is just a needless annoyance that makes Christianity look bigoted, intolerant and petty.

Melinda Selmys is a convert to Catholicism, a contributor at Spiritual Friendship, and the author of 4 books including Sexual Authenticity and Eros and Thanatos.

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

7 Inspirational Messages From Pope Francis for Easter

Loyola Press

Sarah Begley is a culture and breaking news reporter for TIME.

From the Pope's new book, Walking With Jesus

The most important event in the Catholic liturgy is this weekend, and Pope Francis has a new book coming out as an Easter present to his flock. The book is a collection of various sermons and speeches he has given in the last two years, on topics ranging from wisdom to poverty. Here are seven thought-provoking excerpts from Walking With Jesus: A Way Forward for the Church, out Sunday.

On faith:

In many areas of our lives we trust others who know more than we do. We trust the architect who builds our home, the pharmacist who gives us medicine for healing, the lawyer who defends us in court. We also need someone trustworthy and knowledgeable where God is concerned. Jesus, the Son of God, is the one who makes God known to us.

-From the encyclical Lumen Fidei, June 29, 2013

On knowledge:

[O]ur own knowledge and self-awareness are relational; they are linked to others who have gone before us: in the first place, our parents, who gave us our life and our name. Language itself, the words by which we make sense of our lives and the world around us, comes to us from others, preserved in the living memory of others. Self-knowledge is only possible when we share in a greater memory.”

-From the encyclical Lumen Fidei, June 29, 2013

On consumerism:

When we look only for success, pleasure and possessions and we turn these into idols, we may well have moments of exhilaration, an illusory sense of satisfaction, but ultimately we become enslaved, never satisfied, always looking for more. It is a tragic thing to see a young person who “has everything” but is weary and weak.

-From the Message for the 29th World Youth Day, Jan. 21, 2014

On compassion:

We have to learn to be on the side of the poor and not just indulge in rhetoric about the poor! Let us go out to meet them, look into their eyes, and listen to them. The poor provide us with a concrete opportunity to encounter Christ himself and to touch his suffering flesh.

-From the Message for the 29th World Youth Day, Jan. 21, 2014

On illness:

Jesus in fact taught his disciples to have the same preferential love that he did for the sick and suffering, and he transmitted to them the ability and duty to continue providing, in his name and after his own heart, relief and peace through the special grace of this sacrament [of the anointing of the sick]. This, however, should not make us fall into an obsessive search for miracles or the presumption that one can always and in any situation be healed. Rather, it is the reassurance of Jesus’ closeness to the sick.

-From a general audience, Feb. 26, 2014

On marriage:

It is true that there are so many difficulties in married life, so many, when there is insufficient work or money, when the children have problems—so much to contend with. And many times the husband and wife become a little fractious and argue between themselves. They argue, this is how it is, there is always arguing in marriage, sometimes even the plates fly. Yet we must not become saddened by this; it is the human condition. The secret is that love is stronger than the moment when they are arguing, and therefore I always advise spouses, do not let a day when you have argued end without making peace.

-From a general audience, April 2, 2014

On communication:

[C]ommunication is ultimately a human rather than a technological achievement. What is it, then, that helps us, in the digital environment, to grow in humanity and mutual understanding? We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and listen.”

-From the Message for the 48th World Communication Day, Jan. 24, 2014

 

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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